Sunday, April 15, 2012

Christ gives Victory! Meditation for the Second Sunday of Easter.

After days of distress and sorrow due to the death of their beloved teacher and friend, the disciples gather during the evening on the first day of the week behind closed doors. This night they have an encounter that changes their lives forever, giving them victory in the midst of what had, to this point, seemed to them utter darkness!
Victory over fear-!
They were gathered behind closed doors because of fear ! Truth be told, it was fear which had not not begun just this night! On multiple occasions in the gospel writings Jesus spoke to his friends about fear. There was the night when Jesus and his disciples got on a boat to cross the sea of Galilee and a storm railed against the small craft. Jesus slept quietly but his disciples were beset with fear and called out to him. There was the occasion when they saw him walk towards them on the water, and they cried out fearful that it was a spirit. The very night he was betrayed, his disciples fled out of fear! Peter the more verbal of the twelve, who had promised to never leave his master, denied knowing him three times out of fear. We can relate to that, we have all been afraid! Sometimes we fear the challenges and uncertainties of the present, other times it is the unknown future which looms threateningly, or maybe that our past will catch up with us! We fear life and death, we fear for our children and loved ones; there is so much fear in our lives! Fear clouds our judgment torments our thoughts, paints a grim picture before our very eyes so that all hope and faith is drowned out!
"The only thing we have to fear is fear it'self - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." ---- FDR - First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933.
Fear is like a storm, like a raging sea! Yet, as we feel we will drown, Christ comes and speaks to us a word of peace. Even as he did to his disciples and their fears were stilled! As John Newton poetically writes:
“…How sweet the name of Jesus sounds In a believer's ear! It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds, And drives away his fear…”
Where do I go with my fears? I go to the Christ! In song, prayer and worship, I bring to him the tumult of my mind, my racing heart and thoughts and, from him somehow, I receive a peace beyond my fright! I find a strength in myself I could not think was possible and discover that; He
“has not given me a spirit of fear but of love power and a sound mind”. Christ gave his disciples victory over their fears and does so in our lives also.
Victory over sin!
“Receive the Holy Spirit, if you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven!”. Who can forgive other than someone who has been forgiven? The apostles are burdened by their faults; they have missed the mark when it came to Jesus’ betrayal and passion. Christ forgives and gives them power to forgive and be forgiven! It is in forgiveness that we find victory over sin! That truth is repeated often in Scripture:
Acts 13:38 “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Ephesians 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace
It is echoed in the words of St. Mathew in our common prayer…; “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” We need victory over sin and the power to forgive and be forgiven at every turn in our lives. We sin when we act out of selfishness and say no to love! We sin when we act against the virtue of faith, when we demean or hurt or ignore our brother! We sin by what we do , but more often by what we choose to allow. Sin binds us but Christ sets us free. He gives us victory over the power of sin and a key to unlock its chains. The power to forgive!
Victory over Doubt!
Of course here we think of Thomas, who doubted the words of his friends concerning the resurrection of the Christ , but truth be told it speaks to each of us! Here are the sincere words of St. Matthew about the state of Jesus's friends when they first saw the risen Lord!
Matthew 28:17 "When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted"
“…Doubt is natural within faith. It comes because of our human weakness and fraility. [...] Unbelief is the decicion to live your life as if there is no God. It is a deliberate decision to reject Jesus Christ and all that he stands for. But doubt is something quite different. Doubt arises within the context of faith. It is a wistful longing to be sure of the things in which we trust. But it is not and need not be a problem…”
As Augustine expressed it. The world of Christian faith is not a fairy-tale, make-believe world, question-free and problem-proof, but a world where doubt is never far from faith's shoulder! Be that as it may, doubts unanswered and ignored can affect us in our spiritual life: It kept Peter from walking on the water…It hinders us from experiencing themiraculous.
Matthew 14:31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
It hinders the answer to our prayers….
Matthew 21:21 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.
James 1:6
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind
It affects how we live out our Christian faith Romans 14:23
But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
Christ came to Thomas who would not be convinced by the words of his brethren! He shows him the proof he required and received the words of homage, “My Lord and my God…”. He also comes to you and me. How did he get to each of us skeptics and overcome our many doubts? How did he overcome our unbelief? Each of us has different answers to that question! In our lives and experiences of doubt and faith we can agree that it is God alone that can truly convince a soul, persuade a mind, transform doubt into reverent faith! He did it with Thomas and the twelve, he does so with you and me! Victory is waht we need today! May we receive from Jesus the Lord victory over our fears, victory over every sin, victory over doubt and unbelief! Blessings

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

"Release Barrabas...

These seemingly incredible words were uttered by many in the crowd gathered at the palace of the Roman governor demanding justice be done in the case of the Nazarene!

The New Testament writers say little about this man whose story is so intertwined with the events of Holy Week. John speaks of him as a bandit, using words which later Jewish historian Josephus used to describe patriots, revolutionaries opposed to the Roman government of Judea. Matthew refers to Barabbas as prisoner of some notoriety”. In the gospels of Mark and Luke we are given the added detail that he was in prison for his involvement in a riot.

Who was Barrabbas anyway….? Was he a bandit, a rabble rouser, a patriot or revolutionary seeking justice and freedom for his people? We may never have those answers but one thing seems certain, there are no easy stereotypes when it comes to Barabbas. His full name was Jesus Barabbas which literally means Son of the Father, a name by which the other Jesus identified himself with among his followers.

He is a stranger to us, but to some in the crowd he was intimately familiar. He was, as his name declares, the son of a father, he had a mother, may have had a wife, children, brothers sisters,friends as well as those who admired his cause, whichever it may have been! There were some in that multitude who probably loved him! With certainty there were some glad for the political scheming that called for the freeing of Barabbas, their family member, lover or friend!

In a world increasingly divided by political ideologies, class, race and ethnicity, this episode reminds us that people are more than the labels and stereotypes we would put them in! There are lives and particular stories behind the names and selective images flashed from our phones, computers and TV screens! Christians, Episcopalians in particular, who promise to uphold the dignity of every human being, should be careful and prayerful as we face the difficult issues that threaten to divide and alienate people from each other in our society!

“Release Barabbas”… were also words that would have been uttered by the man whose death was clamored for; the man Jesus of Nazareth. John and Matthew record the words of the Nazarene saying, “…No one takes my life from me. I give my life of my own free will…” “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many…”. Would that not have included a man who was sentenced to death , even as he?

In the release of Jesus Barabbas, Jesus the Nazarene, though innocent, dies in his stead. This idea of substitution, where the innocent freely gives his life to save the guilty, has long been at the heart of how Christians understand what happened in the cross.

Here are some of those reflections from Scripture;

“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins…”

"But we see Jesus…that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man" (Hebrews 2:9)

“… Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us…” (Galatians 3:13)

“… God made him who had no sin to be sin for us…” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Our liturgies give testimony of that firmly held belief. Here are the words of the Eucharistic prayer A, 1979 BCP:

“…He stretched out his arms upon the cross and offered himself in obedience to your will a perfect sacrifice for all mankind….”

This idea called “Substitutionary Atonement” is for modern Christians hard to comprehend. There are some in Episcopal circles that decry the concept and its models, yet it seems like a simple truth that speaks to the heart! Someone has taken my place so that I may go free….! I am Barabbas, so are you! We were accused and condemned but God loved us, Jesus took our place and we were set free. St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians speaks of the list of decrees against us that was made null by Christ in the cross we are liberated, given a new chance, a new life!

Release Barrabas…I wonder how incredible those words sounded in his ears on that afternoon. He who had come to terms with certain death was let go! Wow…The unthinkable has happened and he was set free!

I wonder what he did with his newfound life and liberty? We have imagined it in all sorts of ways ! There is version where Barabbas becomes a follower of Christ , the one where he returns to the life of a revolutionary or a brigand . For the philosopher Khalil Gibran Barabbas becomes the ever tormented soul. Here are the words he puts in the mouth of the condemned man who was released;
“…THEY RELEASED ME and chose Him. Then He rose and I fell down... I was freed from my chains, and walked with the throng behind Him, but I was a living man going to my own grave…I should have fled to the desert where shame is burned out by the sun... I know now that those who slew Him in my stead achieved my endless torment. His crucifixion endured but for an hour. But I shall be crucified unto the end of my years…”
There is a choice to be made as to how we live the rest of our lives! What will we do? Have you ever felt accused, condemned by people, by your heart, your conscience? Jesus calls for your release and gives you the choice of a new life and a second chance! May we have the grace to choose well and …May the odds ever be in our favor….!